Written for the benefit of a distressed Player, detained
at Brighthelmstone for Debt, November 1792.
WHEN in a thousand swarms, the summer o'er,
The birds of passage quit our English shore,
By various routs the feather'd myriad moves;
The Becca-Fica seeks Italian groves,
No more a Wheat-ear ; while the soaring files
Of sea-fowl gather round the Hebrid isles.
But if by bird-lime touch'd, unplumed, confined,
Some poor ill-fated straggler stays behind,
Driven from his transient perch, beneath your eaves
On his unshelter'd head the tempest raves,
While drooping round, redoubling every pain,
His mate and nestlings ask his help in vain.
So we, the buskin and the sock who wear,
And 'strut and fret,' our little season here,
Dismiss'd at length, as fortune bids divide--
Some (lucky rogues!) sit down on Thames's side;
Others to Liffy's western banks proceed,
And some--driven far a-field, across the Tweed:
But, pinion'd here, alas! I cannot fly:
The hapless, unplumed, lingering straggler I!
Unless the healing pity you bestow,
Shall imp my shatter'd wings, and let me go.
Hard is his fate, whom evil stars have led
To seek in scenic art precarious bread,
While still, through wild vicissitudes afloat,
A hero now, and now a Sans Culotte!
That eleemosynary bread he gains
Mingling, with real distresses, mimic pains.
See in our group, a pale, lank Falstaff stare!
Much needs he stuffing:--while young Ammon there
Rehearses--in a garret--ten feet square!
And as his soft Statira sighs consent,
Roxana comes not--but a dun for rent!
Here shiv'ring Edgar, in his blanket roll'd,
Exclaims--with too much reason, 'Tom's a-cold! '
And vainly tries his sorrows to divert,
While Goneril or Regan --wash his shirt!
Lo! fresh from Calais, Edward, mighty king!
Revolves--a mutton chop upon a string!
And Hotspur, plucking 'honour from the moon,'
Feeds a sick infant with a pewter spoon!
More bless'd the fisher, who undaunted braves
In his small bark, the impetuous winds and waves;
For though he plough the sea when others sleep,
He draws, like Glendower, spirits from the deep.
And while the storm howls round, amidst his trouble,
Bright moonshine still illuminates the cobble.
Pale with her fears for him, some fair Poissarde ,
Watches his nearing boat; with fond regard
Smiles when she sees his little canvass handing,
And clasps her dripping lover on his landing.
More bless'd the peasant , who, with nervous toil
Hews the rough oak, or breaks the stubborn soil:
Weary, indeed, he sees the evening come,
But then, the rude, yet tranquil hut, his home,
Receives its rustic inmate; then are his,
Secure repose, and dear domestic bliss.
The orchard's blushing fruit, the garden's store,
The pendant hop, that mantles round the door,
Are his:--and while cheerful faggots burn,
'His lisping children hail their site's return.'
But wandering Players, 'unhousel'd, unanneal'd,'
And unappointed, scour life's common field,
A flying squadron!--disappointments cross 'em,
And the campaign concludes, perhaps, at Horsham.
Oh! ye, whose timely bounty deigns to shed
Compassion's balm upon my luckless head,
Benevolence, with warm and glowing breast,
And soft, celestial mercy, doubly bless'd!
Smile on the generous act!--where means are given,
To aid the wretched--is to merit heaven.
Charlotte Smith's Other Poems
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